My Treasure Chest of Thoughts

Tammy Gillmore: Reader, Writer, Thinker, Believer, Achiever

My Treasure     Chest     of      Thoughts

Still Having Fun…and Winning, Too

November 1, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

We are still having fun in English 12.  This week was Red Ribbon Week, so I offered the prize money to a class if they would help decorate my door for the annual photo (3)Door Decorating Contest.  Good news!  We won second.  No prize money, though…but I did share my bag of candy goodies with them.  ”Owl” always remember them fondly!

For three Friday’s now, one class has written similes for that night’s football game, and so far, they have all come to pass.  You know how it is….once you do something, then you can’t stop, for it might cause them to lose!

  1. Running like the wind, the Pioneers will win against Wynne.
  2. Beating like Spartans’ hearts with their war drums, the Pioneers will beat Blytheville at Friday’s game.
  3. Souring like an eagle and then stalking its prey, the Pioneers will devour GCT.

Secretly, hidden within this challenge?  The mastery of participial phrases and the creation of similes.  Sneaky, right?  AND maybe, just maybe?  Those similes are just very powerful!

Now, the true fun begins….hooking them onto the plotline of Macbeth and retaining that interest throughout our reading this drama.  Began that process, as we watched the first two witches’ scenes in honor of the Halloween weekend.  Perfect timing.

Now to grade their latest essays and to, hopefully, share back with them some “fun” grades!


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Sometimes, You Have to Have Fun!

October 25, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

This week was Homecoming Week.  As I type, my baby is at her first Homecoming Dance with a boy.  Hummm…but back to the above title.

How about This Fun:Taylor_Gillmore Homecoming 2014

  1. This week, one of the seniors asked me to pair up with her and dress up each day. For four days, I had spirit!  Go, Pioneers!
  2. Sponsor of the third annual Homecoming Parade, my Beta Club took Best Theme float.  The best part?  The club members stepped up and did all the work on the float
  3. After the last pep rally, I determined that we teachers needed to have just a bit more spirit.  Yes, we do!  AND we did.  So much so, that we won one of the of the Spirit Week awards.  Pictured at right are myself and our new history teacher wearing our tutus.  My first tutu, this one made me feel about eight years old!  Fun!

Why Have Fun?

This week built, strengthened relationships with students as we played and just had fun.  As H. Richard Milner from Harvard University presents, “It is important for teachers to attend students’ activities—such as their plays or sporting events—even when they are not on duty as coaches, chaperones, directors, or sponsors. Teachers from elementary through high school should feel a sense of responsibility to be present at events that help complete students’ educational experiences such as those connected to extra-curricular activities.”  With this, I agree.

Today, I turned 48.  This is my 24th year of teaching.  This totals my having a minimum of five years to have fun…and then back into the classroom to work, to teach, and, hopefully, having fun there while learning, working those strengthened relationships to prepare them as well as I can for the days, the weeks, the years after graduation.

How do you have fun in the educational setting?

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The Eighth Week

October 12, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Already?  Yes, we just completed the eighth week of school.  Wow!

Stressed, I am, just a bit, due to our not being in the lesson plan book where we were at this point last year.  After some reflection, though, I concluded the following:

  1. I am going slower than last year for two reasons:  I probably push my students too hard, and in my attempt to create a blended curriculum, I am listening to the students and hearing that they are not as appreciative of these attempts.  For instance, in one day’s lesson, we may cover appositives, a writer’s use of metaphors, and the students’ answer to our essential question (in a 90-minute block). As I sit and ponder, I am just about convinced that these students’ responses are my fault…oooppsss!…due to my not properly setting the lesson by covering the day’s objectives.  Seems almost too simple.   I know what I want to cover…and I go for it, not pausing to begin with the end in mind.
  2. I added a project when I wrote and received a grant allowing my students to write and publish the 130-year history of our high school. After initiating the project, I spent a week taking each class to the local museum.  Very pleased with the students’ comments, from the appreciation of the history there to the pleased results of acquiring evidence they will use in their narratives of their assigned year.  Fun…just more time out of class.
  3. Our pre-assessment took four days.  Too long.  Especially when we miss for other extracurricular activities:  pep rally, graduation meetings with Jostens, senior group photo.  All needed and essential to making memories, but activities that sure cut into the curriculum.  Back to that pre-assessment, while I supported the design and intent, it was time that spent on a skill that none of our students had ever addressed.  Yes, this data we could have gathered in a shorter span of time.  On the plus side?  We utilized technology, learned much, and mastered it (for the most part!).

At least three weeks behind.  Or not.  We just are where we are.  As I looked at the anchor charts hanging around the room, I concluded they pictorially represent our eight weeks together, summing up the skills covered thus far.

The Ninth Week

Take up that essay!  Grade those essays, witnessing what I am sure will be growth in these senior writers, as I forced them out of their comfort zones, requiring them to use “chunk” writing, receiving the longest paragraphs these writers have ever created, ones containing signal phrases, evidence, and commentary, with stronger introductions and conclusions.

Will they be good?

  • A few will be.
  • Many will need so much work.
  • Several will simply be works in progress.
  • All will be more than they have ever written before.

Last Year and Next Year

Already this year, several of my former students have returned, proud of themselves for their success in their college comp classes.  That is why we teach as we do, isn’t it?  That is why I will push these to write more evidence-based papers than they want, but that’s okay, isn’t it?

That is why we teach as we do…for life after graduation day.

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A Trip to the Museum

October 2, 2014 · No Comments · Chronicling the History of BHS

Actually…five trips to the museum.

Over the past week or so, I took all five of my English 12 classes to the local county museum to research one year in our school’s 130-year history.  So interesting.  Shamefully, I had only been to the museum to vote.  Isn’t that awful?

We made significant progress in determining topics and most of the students expressed sincere interest and appreciation for the information they were discovering to fulfill their assignment:  for their assigned year choose one focus and write one page (a double-page spread), a manageable goal.  Right?

Why are we doing this project?

I wrote a grant and received funding to write this history and then, more importantly, publish the history in real-book format, of which each student who contributes will receive a free copy.  All published authors.  That is just too cool!

The students will have input and choose everything…the layout, the thematic elements, the cover, with their final input determining what gift the class as a whole will leave the school from the profits they will make from selling additional copies of this masterpiece.

The real purpose?

This is authentic writing for a real audience for an invested purpose, and what a difference this had made.  Not just a paper for me, the teacher, to read, but a paper their families and many of the featured persons will read.  Authenticity, student ownership…both so vital to students’ buying into the success of any endeavor.

One challenge I am encountering right now is that many of the students want to focus on football.  While I appreciate all extra-curricular activities (I do sponsor my share!), much more exists in the history; hopefully, as our ladder of chosen topics develops, the students will see the value of including such a variety of selected features.

I hope to develop additional such projects, for I truly appreciate the synergy among the students.

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On My Mind…

September 4, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Because I have five minutes….I am going to write for five minutes!

Life.  Isn’t it just the craziest thing?  And a busy life it is.

Class Schedule

This year, I have five sections of English 12 and one of journalism, all of which are moving right along.

  • English 12:  We are still in the getting-into-school phase.  This week, we have focused on a pre-literacy assessment, and in an attempt to model the upcoming PARCC assessment, we are attempting an online version. Craziness getting all of them to activate their student emails and using Chromebooks (nice!) but which are not what I have been used to within my classroom (I have a class set of mini-computers).  Hoping that next week, we can actually dive into our thematic unit for this nine weeks.
  • Journalism:  This class’s numbers grew, and at the rate that they are producing articles, they will be ready layout and design next week.  Awesome!

Book Club

Very much alive and well for the teachers! Yay!  I am excited!  A bit about our selected reads:

  • Professional Development:  Along with our state’s ASCD group, who is hosting a state-wide book club, twelve of us (all volunteers) will be reading Five Levers to Improve Learning.  This study runs through March and should be managable on teachers’ busy schedules.
  • September:  The group chose Justin Cronin’s The Passage…at my recommendation, one I just passed along from a family member.  I am barely into the novel…will have to share more about that one later.
  • October:  The Finisher by David Baldacci, a young adult novel, will capture our imaginations.  I also recommended this one, hoping to read another engaging novel to recommend to our students.

My five minutes are up…be back soon!  Really want to continue my posts on 20 Literacy Strategies to Meet the Common Core (recommended this book to our academic coach…hoping we will read as an English department!).

Hope your year is off to a happy start!  Happy New School Year!

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Strategy 2 to Meet The Common Core

July 21, 2014 · No Comments · book review, Common Core, Professional Books

Today’s showcased strategy from Elaine K. McEwan-Adkins’ and Allyson J. Burnett’s professional development book entitle 20 Literacy Strategies to Meet the Common Core is “Show You Know,” which builds on the previous strategy “Read-Decide-Explain.”

Show YOU Know

To prove the students “know,” the authors encourage the use of the technique “telegraphic highlighting,” with the students highlighting the explicit meaning of the assigned chunk of text.  In essence, the students are asked to highlight just as they write much daily, using the short concise messages they create in their text and Twitter posts.  For instance, in a chunk of four sentences, the teacher might ask for ten highlighted words that, yes, summarizes that part of the text.

Following a teacher model, group work, and then independent analysis (reminder:  I switched the author’s order here; they suggest model, student work with teacher, then group work), the students show they know when they work with a partner to create an infoposter (or some other visual aid) relaying what the text explicitly says, followed by an in-class presentation (also a practice of their speaking and listening skills).


I have already used this strategy some in class…just did not use their terminology:  telegraphic, text message, nor did I take it the next step and have them create another document using the information:  a very important step.


Please check here for free reproducibles, including definition list, graphic organizer, and lesson plan (must create an account first) and click here for my thoughts on Strategy 1 “Read-Decide-Explain.”

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Strategy 1 to Meet the Common Core

July 19, 2014 · No Comments · book review, Common Core, Professional Books

20 Literacy Strategies to Meet the Common Core

As part of my professional growth plan for last year, I committed to read 20 Literacy Strategies to Meet the Common Core:  Increasing Rigor in Middle and High School Classrooms (book info and free resources may be found here).  Confession:  I did not finish this book before the end of the school year.  I have…oh, my, I have somewhere near 20 days before our unit planning collaboration day.  Oh, my!  In hopes of no more major interruptions in my life, my plan is to now read this book between now and then and to write a post for each strategy before that date.  Maybe a post…or two…per day.

Book’s Premise

Authors Elaine K. McEwan-Adkins‘ and Allyson J. Burnett‘s goal is to increase secondary students’ reading and comprehension of informational texts, thereby, also, teaching students how to learn, as they assist teachers in adapting strategies that will better enhance student learning.  In what they refer to as a “spiraling curriculum,” they introduce 19 strategies, with strategy 20 culminating in “literacy rehearsal” across the curriculum.

Part 1:  Overview of Key Ideas and Details

This section of the book “presents a set of literacy strategies designed to help your students meet the standards found in the first section of the Common Core College and Career Anchor Standards for Reading…”

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Go back and read slowly…here’s our task:

  1. Teach students to read closely.
  2. Help students determine what the text explicitly states.
  3. Make inferences about implicit meanings.
  4. Learn how to summarize conclusions.
  5. Support all of the above with textual evidence.
  6. Not stated…but needed…enhance vocabulary (explicit, implicit, inferences, summarize, evidence)

Note from myself…Common Core has fewer standards?  Really?  How many skills will have to be taught and retaught just to master any of the above numbered tasks.  Yes…I digress.

The chart on pages 23-24 sums up the above list very nicely.

Strategy #1:  Read-Decide-Explain

Goal:  Students will decide if each sentence….yes, each sentence…assists in answering a teacher-generated question and then explain why or why not.

The premise for this goal is that students need to understand, to comprehend what they are reading.

Mortimar J. Adler (1940) defines comprehension as reading with “x-ray eyes.”  Comprehension has two facets:  extracting meaning and constructing meaning.  Extracting meaning from a text at the most basic level – literal comprehension – involves enumerating the key facts, opinions, or ideas in expository texts or retelling a narrator…constructing meaning, a process whereby the reader brings a unique set of experiences and knowledge to the text and, from reading and interacting with peers and teachers, develops new (to the reader) insights and ideas that help affix the reading experience in long-term memory.

First, teacher chooses a small passage and divides it into chunks, develops a guiding question, analyzes each sentence, and

Page 30

Page 30

concludes with a sentence summary of how the text answers that guiding question.  See sample from the book at right.  Here’s a link to a blank template (must create a free account first).

This model coincides well with the Gradual Release Model, which I highly encourage, support, and do my best to implement (great article here on this topic).  Thus, for that “chunked” text above, I deviate a bit…and would arrange the analysis of texts in this manner:  model the first chunk, have the students complete the next chunk in groups, and then complete the last chunk individually.  This method, so powerful, does encourage fewer texts being read due to the time commitment to complete.

Future Use

Yes, this is a strategy I can easily utilize as we analyze a text  I would also use this when analyzing author’s choices, especially discussing the reason for including the sentences where we answered “no” under the Decide column.

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Feeling Inadequate

June 12, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

After a week’s break from school, I began teaching for our local college’s Upward Bound Math and Science program in which they offer ACT English/Reading and English Skills class.  Again, this year, I am working with the incoming  twelfth grade level students.  During the first week of the program, we cover ACT prep skills…five days, five hours.  Here, I feel so inadequate.

First, the students scores are all over the place.

Second, we prep for both English and reading…in five days.

Third…no need for a third, for the first two have me gasping and, what I call, hodge-podging.  Talking faster than I should, I attempt to cover as many tips as possible, knowing that I am just barely touching the tip of that iceberg, never minding what falls below this test-prepping body of water!

Located here is what I have created over the last few years:  a four-week plan (now, I realize how nice that time was!) and our current four-week plan (stress!).  Here, you may find a five-week plan I used for ACT Prep for our high school students (we met in the mornings before school).

The bigger picture?  The students are also receiving prep sessions via the program.  The even bigger picture, though, reveals a feeling that must be similar to my students who feel overwhelmed in class.  So much to cover.  So much to do. Understanding bits.  Never seeing the whole iceberg.

This fall, I, again, will teach English 12.  The bigger picture (that entire iceberg), though, is that many of the “smart” kids are in AP Lang/Lit, and several of our students take English 101/102 at the local university, thereby receiving credit for English 12 also.  This takes the tip off the GPA iceberg, leaving many of those students I described above sitting in my classes, resulting in my needing to plan even more diligently how to reach those students who just don’t quite get it…those who will tell you, “English is just not my favorite class.”

That saying “You live and you learn” is just so true!

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A New Year

June 2, 2014 · No Comments · English 12

Today began our summer break.

Today also began the first day of the 2014-2015 school year.  Yes, indeed.

You see, today, I completed my first summer read, and in that read, I found a theme I hope to use with my students next year….on page 300 of Richard Paul Evans’ Walking on Water:

Every now and then people ask me about my walk.  They seem surprised or amazed by it; not seeing that it’s really no different than what they do every day.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all on a walk.  And, like me on my journey, none of us know what experiences we’ll face or who we’ll meet along our road. The best we can do is set our hearts on a mark in the distance and try to make it.  For some the road will seem long, while for others, it will end all too soon.  There will be days of clear skies and pleasant walking, and there will be long, bitter stretches trudged through storms.  But either way we must walk.  It’s what we were made for.

Now sure yet exactly how I will incorporate this throughout the year, but the vision has begun.  May start with a new painting for my classroom.  Maybe find a theme song that contains the same theme.  Maybe…

Today, our first day of summer break…also, the first day to begin planning anew.

PS…Evans’ The Walk series is soooo good.  I would hope that you might consider reading this series this summer…enjoy!

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Poem 12: To the Birthday Boy

April 12, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Today’s NaPoWriMo’s Challenge:  a “replacement” poem. Pick a common noun for a physical thing, for example, “desk” or “hat” or “bear,” and then pick one for something intangible, like “love” or “memories” or “aspiration.” Then Google your tangible noun, and find some sentences using it. Now, replace that tangible noun in those sentences with your intangible noun, and use those sentences to create (or inspire) a poem.

Instead of this poem, I wrote a poem for my brother whose birthday is tomorrow.

To Many More

It’s your birthday!
So just let me say…
You are the best brother ever
(Nor will we mention you are the only one, however)!

This must be number 46.
This is easy for me to predict
Since you and I were nearly twins,
But fortunately the older date I win
And also in age, height, and hair,
In all else, I declare…
It’s your birthday,
Today, you simply must rank
In looks, smarts, and humor, too!
Wishing you, all the day through…
A HaPpy Birthday.
May all great wishes come your way!



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